What is Architecture? Definition and Introduction

Uncover the basic ruling principles of architecture, its importance to history, and how we define changes in style and form.

What Do We Talk About, When We Talk About Architecture?

We might think that architecture only refers to the designing and building of structures. But the term covers much more than that. From planning and design, to the unifying or coherent form, to the knowledge of art, science and humans, to a finished building’s interior and exterior.

From the overall footprint or layout of a building down to the single brick, **architectural study observes how all pieces of a structure come together.**

Architecture also looks at both the **functionality of a building** and its **aesthetic or artistic qualities.**

Orders & Movements

When we discuss architecture, we often talk in terms of **styles, orders, and movements.**

The earliest known structures were of **‘vernacular’** architecture, homes and other buildings created out of a combination of need and means, or access to materials. Across the world, ‘vernacular’ can refer to log cabins, thatch-roofed huts, yurts, igloos, and more.

Generally speaking, the major architectural movements begin with ancient architectural styles for which we still have enough existing structures to begin to understand them. These are divided into **‘orders,’** while later shifts are usually designated as **‘movements.’**

Movements can be defined by time period, location, dominant style, philosophy, resources and materials, or other factors. **Often it is a combination of these.**

History of Architecture

**Göbekli Tepe**, a former temple site in Southeastern Turkey, is the oldest recorded building site known today, with evidence from the site dated to 9500-8000 BCE. This means that we have over 10,000 years of architectural history.

Over time, many different styles and design movements have come and gone and tracking these movements is an important aspect of architectural study.

However, the field of architecture also has its own internal history. Many of history’s greatest thinkers have written on the philosophy of architecture or have been architects themselves. In fact, the earliest surviving written work on architecture is *De architectura*, written by **Vitruvius** in the 1st century – but even Vitruvius cites earlier texts that are now lost.

From Plato to Foucault, many philosophers have written treatises on architecture, and artists from Michelangelo and DaVinci to contemporary names such as Anish Kapoor and Frank Gehry have lent their talents to architectural design.

Architecture & Culture


For many ancient cultures around the world, architectural ruins are some of the last remaining traces of entire civilizations.

**Architecture gives us a window through which these long-lost people can be brought to life.**

Much can be learned about a people’s resources, technological capabilities, influences and priorities from the types of buildings they built, the materials they used, and even the design and positioning of the buildings.

Being able to extract this cultural information from prehistoric and ancient architectural sites is critically important. However, this is also relevant to the present day, where historians are able to track important cultural movements through style, scale, and investment in materials and decoration up to the modern day.

Through learning about and studying advancements in technology and building systems, **we can reveal much about our own culture, and the world we have built.**

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